The Sustainable Energy of Young Ideas
The Sustainable Energy of Young Ideas
Inspiring Stories has an ambitious goal: the charity supports young New Zealanders in developing ideas for a better future.
At a time when humanity faces many challenges, Inspiring Stories is encouraging young people to unleash their potential to change the world. Inspiring Stories is a charity that supports young New Zealanders to tackle the big and complex issues society faces, from energy use to food production to environmental conservation.
Founder and CEO Guy Ryan says the charity is tapping into young people’s desire to make a difference now, rather than waiting 20 years. “Young people are able to take risks because they don’t yet have a family or a mortgage, but do have big ambition, optimism and drive,” he says.
What would it take to change the world
Guy’s own journey to support social entrepreneurship began at university, where he organised a month-long adventure festival of tree-planting and rubbish-clearing on remote New Zealand beaches. He also made an award-winning film about young New Zealanders developing solutions to climate change. “For me, the catalyst was learning about climate change,” says Guy. “I saw a huge lack of leadership on the issue, yet I also saw the incredible energy and resourcefulness of young people around me who were asking what it would take to change the world.”
Inspiring Stories has worked with nearly 5000 young New Zealanders since it was founded in 2011. The charity has three main initiatives: Live the Dream, a summer accelerator programme for young social entrepreneurs; Festival for the Future, an annual conference for young innovators and influencers; and Making a Difference, an annual film competition that aims to overturn negative stereotypes about young people.
Live the Dream taps into the international trend towards social entrepreneurship. Millennials, i.e. those who were children or teenagers in 2000, are more likely than any generation before them to make purchasing and work decisions on the basics of ethics or social good, so there is an increasing market for products and services that have a positive impact on society and the environment. Guy points out that New Zealand has some excellent systems to support high-growth commercial enterprise, but few initiatives for social enterprise.
Being ambitious and taking risks
The 2015/2016 Live the Dream programme involves 58 young social entrepreneurs attending a nine-week full-immersion programme at university campuses in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. By the end of the programme, participants are expected to have tested their idea, developed a viable enterprise model, pulled together a 90-day business plan, developed a network of mentors and friends, and pitched their idea to potential investors.
While not all past participants have continued with their ventures after Live the Dream ended, they took with them a range of transferable entrepreneurial skills and processes they could apply to future projects. Graduates of the 2014/2015 Live the Dream programme included Bonnie Howland, 19, who set up beauty brand Indigo & Iris. Sales of the company’s first product, an organic mascara, will fund eyesight restorative surgery in the Pacific Islands.
Other enterprises set up by 2014/2015 graduates include:
Plastic Diet, which works to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in New Zealand
Y.I.Design, which is dedicated to empowering communities to pool resources and develop buildings that enhance the social urban fabric
Grow Aotearoa, which encourages people to create self-sustaining food systems in their backyards
For Purpose, a platform that enables communities to seek crowd-funded investment to finance their transition to renewable energy.
Creating change from a small country
“It’s all about building capacity. Live the Dream is very hands-on and practical, and it supports young people to develop ideas and solutions so that their projects are not completely dependent on grant funding,” says Guy. In 2016, the charity plans to run a year-long pilot programme to support social entrepreneurs aged 18 to 25 who live in rural or provincial areas.
“New Zealand is a unique place to pilot this stuff. No-one does it quite like we do,” says Guy. “We have a small population, which makes it reasonably easy to get in the room with the right people to form partnerships and relationships. Getting funding is always a challenge, but that also makes us more resourceful and creative.”
Guy, who turned 30 in 2015, has always believed that Inspiring Stories should be led by young people. He plans to hand over responsibility for the charity to a successor within the next couple of years. But whatever he does next, Guy says he will always believe that young people can play a critical role in finding solutions to the big issues of our time.
“I absolutely love doing this work,” he says. “Connecting with young people who have the courage and motivation to step up to try to change the world for the better gives me great pride and energy.”